Schools are working well for many children
As parents, we each have our own reasons for choosing a school. Some of these reasons are rooted in family tradition, a desire for a religious education, or access to specialized programming. Others, however, are rooted in misconceptions.
I am writing to members of our community who tell families with young children to avoid the CH-UH schools, to those who suggest we shouldn't support our schools until "they do their job," and to those who imply that enrolling a child in our public system is a mistake.
I am not suggesting that some complaints about children's experiences in our schools aren't legitimate. Nor am I suggesting that families who always planned to send their children to private or parochial school change those plans. But please understand that there are countless conscientious families, like mine, whose children are having overwhelmingly positive experiences in their neighborhood schools, and that our support of and participation in those schools is a valuable investment in the future viability of our community.
My son is entering his fourth year at Fairfax Elementary and he has benefited from the school’s hardworking, capable, committed and caring professionals. The schools succeeded for my friend's daughter and her cohort of recent Heights High graduates who are now starting their college careers at Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Cornell, McCallister, Denison, Case Western Reserve, to name but a few schools.
Many of us love living in this wonderfully diverse community. We may also recognize that we have not fully achieved Martin Luther King's dream of equality. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our community's relationship with its schools.
While our community is roughly 50 percent white and 43 percent black, our schools are 80 percent black. There are many reasons this is so, but I suspect that even in this "integrated" community, issues of race and class play a role. Even I, a white woman who did anti-racism work with my early childhood education colleagues in Chicago, taught anti-bias curriculum at the college level, and lived in integrated neighborhoods for more than 10 years of my adult life, experienced subconscious assumptions and fears about my child being in the minority at school.
Nonetheless, I opted for the public schools for a variety of reasons. My husband and I really wanted to send our child to our neighborhood school. I heard many positive first-hand stories about experiences in the public schools, I read How to Walk to School: Blueprint For a Neighborhood School Renaissance, which reminded me that I could be a positive force in my community by working in and with the public schools, and I knew enough to question my own assumptions about race and class. While all is not perfect in our schools, I feel fortunate to be a part of the team striving for progress, if not perfection.
My son is happy, a voracious reader and learner, and largely oblivious to the issues that concern us as adults. If at some point he is unhappy in school, I'll do all I can to work with the schools to resolve the issues.
Meanwhile, I ask community members who question the value of our public schools to care about all families and children in the community, not just their own. Like we tell our children: Be careful with your words; they matter. When you publicly or privately deride the performance of the schools, their students and teachers, you disregard the experience of many of your neighbors and colleagues. You disrespect the efforts of the dedicated staff, children and families who call these schools home. Every time your comments drive an engaged, committed family away from our schools, you negatively impact the education of the children who remain.
Like many here, I wish support of our schools weren't so dependent on property taxes. Until we succeed in changing the funding formulas, however, I hope that the majority will recognize how important it is for a community to strive for high quality schools and school buildings for its youngest residents. Finally, I invite others who want to send their children to their neighborhood school to try it; you just might like it.
Joan Spoerl, a resident of Cleveland Heights, is an early childhood consultant with more than 13 years of combined experience teaching kindergarten, Head Start, preschool and college.